Published 28th April 2023, 14:52

    MY first ascent of Meall na Fearna was 20 years ago, a warm spring day when I walked up from Ardvorlich along with the crowds heading for Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin.

    As they followed the well-worn path off to the right higher up, I went left, crossing a stodgy alliance of boggy ground and peat hags before finally climbing to the small cairn at the Corbett's summit.

    It wasn't the most memorable walk, the scant recall confirmed by the fact that despite the fine conditions I have only two monochrome photos of the whole outing.

    My first ascent of Beinn nan Oighreag was also 20 years ago, a long, wet approach with limited opportunity for sightseeing on the push up from Glen Lochay. And although I do have a couple of colour images from that walk, they might well have been in black and white.

    It's often said that if you climb the same mountain every day for a year, chances are you will have 365 unique experiences. Different seasons, different weather. Different routes, different time of day (or night). Even the light can vary dramatically from one ascent to another.

    Different days, different ways: that's the mantra I'm following for my attempt to get round all the Corbetts for the second time. 

    I completed on Beinn Bhuidhe in Knoydart in 2009, but it's been such a long time since I've been on some of these summits that the revision is overdue. I also climbed many during the night hours, in some cases taking the simplest way up and down to get back in time for work. It took three rounds of Munros to get a view from every summit bar one – Beinn Bhuidhe, it finally succumbed at the fourth attempt – but I'm more hopeful with the Corbetts.

    The aim is to try to have a fresh approach to each walk. This may involve taking a longer way round, coming in from a different and hopefully more interesting direction, visiting all the attendant summits or combining with Munros and other peaks. The classic routes take care of themselves. There's no point choosing a vastly inferior approach simply because it's different from last time. I shall just make sure the weather is on its best behaviour so as not to blight perfection.

    So far, the experience has been refreshing, mainly the result of no time restraints and having the patience to wait for favourable conditions. No more ploughing uphill in wind, rain and zero visibility to get a tick. At some point, it will do doubt be unavoidable, but it would be nice to complete a clear round.

    The time gap that has blunted recollection in some cases also brings the benefit of a welcome freshness to proceedings, and while a new approach isn't a guarantee of superiority, at least it has generally proved interesting. 

    The ascent of Meall na Fearna from the less-trodden Glen Artney to the east was a circuit of blissful solitude. The wonderfully rugged Strath a' Ghlinne set the mood perfectly, steep, craggy slopes on either side of tumbling waters sparkling silver in the sunlight, a handful of ponies grazing undisturbed.

    There was a bit of dodging about on the incline to pick the best line, but with no one else around, it felt as though I was sneaking in the back door. There was the inevitable peat hag to cross for the final short push to a summit which suddenly opened out to reveal the best faces of its bigger neighbours, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin. The descent of the southern spur was fast, dropping me into the equally empty Gleann an Dubh Choirein to pick up a return path following the water course past a series of delightful little cascades.

    I chose to revisit Beinn nan Oighreag from the Bridge of Balgie road, a higher start point which involved the crossing a low shoulder and picking a way through a boggy col before the final rise. It's debatable if this is a better option than the Glen Lochay route, but at least the visibility was superb, a cold, crisp and frosty morning of blue sky and strengthening sun, and I was treated to a comprehensive view of the whole mountain. It was certainly shorter than the previous ascent, leaving me plenty time to jettison much of the heavy winter gear to add the short run up Meall na Meagaich on the other side of the road. Same route as before, but again the clarity made it feel brand new. 

    The Beinn Mholach revision involved a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. I took the An Cearcaill track down the length of Loch Garry from the A9 at Dalnaspidal but my recollection of the remainder of the route seemed to vanish in tandem with the path at the end of the loch. Hardly surprising, I suppose, as last time out I had started out in the dark hours only for a stubborn mist to close in after dawn, so the long ascent of the mountain in clear conditions took on a true feeling of originality. 

    And to enhance the experience, rather than retrace my steps like last time, I bit the bullet and wandered further out back to Beinn Bhoidheach and the impressively rugged Glas Mheall Mor to complete a horseshoe of lonely tops for a 28-kilometre day.

    Different days, different ways. So far, it's proving to be a winning formula.